Straying Far (from home) but Staying Connected (to my faith) – Eryne Jenkins

I recently returned from a short term study abroad program in Copenhagen, Denmark. While there, I attended worship services held at a branch of Hillsong, effectively a megachurch with 80 affiliated locations around the world. It was amazing to fellowship with individuals who, like me, grew up in church, in addition to those who found faith in God later in life. While there, a peer shared with me that they weren’t religious because it was forced on them as a child.

As I reflect on my transition to Madison and my trip to Denmark, I’ve been able to reflect on my faith journey and how my upbringing played a role in my faith today. Truthfully, I never felt forced to go to church. However, I also knew that if I did not feel well enough to go to church, I dare not feel like playing outside, on the computer, or any other activity that afternoon, either. When I was old enough to begin developing a personal relationship with God, I began to see how my parents would praise God for the good and bad things that would come up in life. It was a hard lesson, but I began to understand how necessary adversity is for growth; I experienced this first-hand last year as I transitioned to college life.

When I first arrived at Madison, I had a myriad of feelings toward this new avenue of my life. I was excited to pursue a high level of scholarship, but I was worried about the distance from my family; I felt supported by my community at home, but was unsure about the many aspects of my daily life on campus. I have taken a personal stake in connecting with a faith community, because in my case, my faith relationship was the one constant in the midst of so many changing variables in my life. Fellowship throughout my life has been imperative; a community of believers can support individuals in amazing ways along one’s faith journey. Fellow believers have reminded me of scripture and prayed for me when it sometimes felt I forgot to do so myself. The sense of faith community is paramount, especially when I feel isolated on campus and in other spaces. Thus, I am committed to engaging in spaces that work to ensure our campus, and furthermore our community, can be comfortable and inclusive for all, simply because I understand how important fellowship has been to me.

It was amazing to engage with peers from Copenhagen about their beliefs and faith traditions. Historically, Danes are not religious. While businesses are shut down most Saturdays and Sundays, the tradition is centered on spending time with family and practicing self care. However, in light of an increase of immigrants and diversity in the city, many are trying to excite and engage people in interfaith dialogue. I consider Madison, WI to be much less diverse than where I am from. However, the University brings together a large group of people from many different ethnic, cultural, and faith backgrounds. It is imperative that we engage in interfaith dialogue to ensure we are learning about one another and creating a space for our peers to share their beliefs. I am excited to engage in interfaith dialogue and work with the fellows of the Center for Religion and Global Citizenry this year.